• Published 11th Sep 2013
  • 1,553 Views, 214 Comments

Keeper of the Crystal Heart - Cerulean Voice



An empire arises from the midst of a frozen wasteland. But how is this possible? A group of three young ones will unearth the secret. A sequel to These Flowers Never Bloom.

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Crystalline Power (part one)

Aura's slow return to consciousness was marred by an unpleasantly familiar feeling: hunger. She opened her sleep-encrusted eyes, memories of what she'd just endured returning to assault her mind once again. It's a miracle I'm still here. Aura rose to her hooves, confident that the danger had passed. She glanced around and took in the interior of their cave for the first time with any real observation.

The first thing that she noticed about the cave was that it felt unnaturally warm. With a blizzard continuing to rage outside the entrance the cave, it should have been almost as cold inside as outside. Aura turned her attention next to the walls of the cavern. They dazzled her with their beauty, for they were not merely composed of stone or soil. Instead, a beautiful, glistening finish ran over the walls, sparkling bright like the gemstones that some of the wealthier unicorns back home sported. A glimmering light emanating from a suspended green fire served only to increase the beauty of her surroundings.

I suppose the fire is keeping this place warm, but why is it green? Is it magic? Aura stood enchanted by the beautiful foundations of the cavern, until a loud rumble reminded her of her plight. So hungry. When did I eat last, anyway?

Aura's search around the cavern led her into a deeper room, one filled with even more beautiful adornments. If the opening had served as an entrance hall, this must have been the equivalent of a guest room. Another enchanted, contained fire—this one a vivid, electric blue—bathed the room in an ethereal light, giving Aura the impression she was underwater. Gazing around this room, Aura stopped as she laid her eyes on a peculiar sight. A plant grew from within a fissure in the nearby wall. As she approached the plant, she noticed there were small growths shooting out from it. Curiosity piqued, Aura examined the bush.

The dark red growths resembled berries.

Eyes widening, Aura plucked one from the bush with her magic and held it up to her face. It smelled delicious and it sparkled more in the small, pink glow from her horn. That's strange. It seems to be made of the same stuff that the walls are. In two minds about whether something resembling a ruby in all appearances could possibly be edible, Aura gave the stone a tentative lick... and proceeded to chomp the entire berry down. Her taste buds shrieked with excitement at the sudden explosion of flavour.

"Wow!" Aura didn't even attempt to contain her glee at the amazingly delicious berry; after over a full day with no food, to find such a taste-defying-ly delicious substance seemed too good to be true. She grabbed another and chomped it down eagerly, savouring the impossibly sweet flavour. Even if it is a little crunchy, that's a very small complaint! Aura feasted on her new discovery, a feeling of radiance filling her very essence. She became so engrossed in her new discovery that she didn't even notice the short gasp from the room's entrance.

The resulting cry grabbed her attention, though.

"Aura! Are you all right? What happened to you?" Valencia galloped into the room and stopped just short of the surprised filly. Aura positively glowed. Not just as a reflection in the shimmering blue walls, but literally, seemingly from the inside. Valencia's eyes could hardly take in the sight. "What the hay happened to you, girl?" she repeated. "You're glowing! Do you feel sick?" Her eyes roved over Aura's body, catching sight of the dangling red berries. "What's that you've got—"

Valencia's eyes shrank as she absorbed the sight of the crimson stains around Aura's mouth. "Did you just eat offshoots from a completely unknown plant? Are you insane? You could be dead right now, you know that?" Valencia took a deep breath and steadied herself.

Aura recoiled from the sudden aggression of the elder mare. "I'm sorry, Miss Valencia. I know it was silly, but I was just so hungry and these red things are so delicious—" Aura ceased her apology as the sight of her hoof in front of her face gave her pause. Eyes wide, she examined herself in the reflection of a nearby wall. Valencia hadn't been exaggerating—she was literally shining. Her pink coat had never been so radiant in all her life. She was even giving off her own source of light!

Suddenly fearful of what she'd noticed, Aura dropped the berry in her possession and backed away from her reflection. "Miss Valencia, what's wrong with me? Why do I look like that?" She backed right into the mare and turned her face into the orange pony's coat.

Valencia shushed Aura as she put a hoof around the trembling filly. "It's all right, little one. Apart from shining like the sun, you don't seem any different. It would seem like those gem things aren't poisonous after all, but I'm still gonna keep an eye on you. Don't worry, I'm sorry I freaked out on you like that. I ain't mad. Now calm down, I'm sure you'll be fine."

Aura looked up from her embrace and nodded. "Thank you for the reassurance. I'm sorry I ate from that bush without considering the danger, Miss Valencia. I won't do it again, I promise." Aura nuzzled the mare who'd comforted her and backed away to re-examine herself. The glow was beginning to fade already. As an experiment—although she was fairly sure about the outcome—Aura picked up the berry she'd dropped and promptly nibbled on it. As she expected, the temporary radiance returned.

Giggling, Aura bounced around the room, all fear eradicated. "Wow, this is incredible! My coat is just gorgeous! Wait until I tell Clover." Suddenly it occurred to Aura that she hadn't given Clover a thought until that moment. "Hey, Miss Valencia, have you spoken to Clover yet since you woke up? I'm worried about her."

Valencia shook her head. "I haven't actually, but the poor dear was so exhausted after what we all went through that I haven't bothered checking up on her. I'm sure she could use as much rest as she can get. Although it wouldn't hurt to see how she's doing."

With an eager nod, Aura plucked some more of the strange ruby berries and levitated them out of the room, following Valencia back to the entrance where they'd left Clover. As she did so, Aura felt a noticeably diminished strain on her magic. Being a filly still, levitation was a particularly draining skill of hers, but since eating those berries, she hardly felt a thing. Awesome! Not only are they delicious and make me sparkle, but they're magic boosters too! Imagine if we could take these back home and grow them for everypony!

Her previous fears forgotten, an excited Aura fled from the room back to the cave entrance. The blizzard still raged outside, but by some mysterious power, none of the snow or ice found its way beyond the threshold. Still shining a little in the luminescent green of the entrance hall, Aura searched for her mentor. "Clover! Where are you? I have something incredible to show you! Clover? Where'd you go?"

A frown creased her face with the absence of replies. Aura searched the other room where she had awoken. Cirrus was still fast asleep, yet there was no sign of Clover at all. Aura returned to the entrance and examined the spot where Clover has passed out. She turned back to Valencia. "Where do you think she is?"

Valencia shook her head. "I'm not sure. We left her right here, but she's not in either of the other rooms. Only place she could have gone would be outside, and—" they both glanced at the billowing snowstorm "—somehow, I can't imagine she would have done that. Not without alerting the rest of us, anyway." She sat down in thought, Aura by her side. Aura's sheen had faded once more with the passage of time, taking with it her excitement at the idea of impressing her teacher. A stray thought entered her mind, a lesson that Clover had touched on but one they'd never explored...

* * * * *

"As of now, this is a little too advanced for you, my dear, but I can still show you the basics of it." Clover looked down at her studious protegè. "Especially with how this winter is looking, it could be quite a useful spell. It's called the Aura-locator. No, it's not named after you, silly filly, that's a complete coincidence," Clover explained as Aura giggled. "Although, I will be locating you with it this time. This is a useful spell for finding a lost pony. Now go and stand over there, dear."

Aura obediently walked to the edge of the study.

"Good. Now walk to me and stand at my side."

The filly obeyed once more, sidling up to Clover.

"Now keep your eyes on the corner where you just stood a moment ago and prepare to be amazed!" Clover's horn lit with her magic, her brow furrowed with concentration. Aura glanced up at her teacher, then back to the corner.

A faint outline of her own body appeared, staring back at her. To Aura's disbelief, the image began to walk back over to right where she stood. She gasped as the shadow-her took its own place at Clover's side, just as she had a minute before. It came to rest exactly where and how she stood, before vanishing. Aura gaped in awe up at Clover as the magical energy faded. Clover smiled down at her student, a large grin unfurling.

"See? Isn't that something? I only used a small amount of energy there, as it was a simple demonstration. Of course, the amount of time you want to follow somepony's 'echo' to find their current location will require much more energy as it increases. As such, this is a spell that only high-level unicorns are being taught right now. Any ordinary unicorn would be hard-pressed to maintain this type of connection for longer than a few minutes at a time."

* * * * *

Back in the present, Aura jolted out of her reminiscence and looked at Valencia. "I think I know how I can find her. I've never tried this before, because it's a really difficult spell. I think if I eat some more of these berries, though, I might just get the hang of it." Grasping two berries in her magic, Aura popped them into her mouth. As she chewed, she began to radiate once more, the feel of enhanced magical ability accompanying her shine. Concentrating hard, Aura thought of Clover and cast her spell. A few moments passed with no result.

Aura moped. "Darn, it didn't work!" She kicked the ground in frustration.

Valencia put a hoof around her for comfort. "Now don't worry too much, kiddo. I'm sure she's—"

Aura shook off the hoof and started forward. "No!" she squeaked. "I have to keep trying." Popping another berry into her mouth, Aura lit her horn once more and concentrated again, aiming further into the past. It had obviously been a while since Clover had moved. Expending more power, Aura focused on her mentor's energy signature. On her second attempt, she caught an incredibly faint outline in her sight, but the image was far too blurred and it promptly vanished. Not to be deterred, Aura once again ate a berry and concentrated with all of her might.

"Come on, come on..."

Her third attempt was successful. An image flickered to life before her; Clover lay on her side, breathing raggedly in her sleep. Refusing to let shock get the better of her, Aura kept up the spell as she watched Clover breathe. However, Clover was not alone for long. An enormous shape emerged from the blizzard and came to rest next to Clover's shadow. Valencia and Aura both stared as the taller shape lowered its head, an unusual headpiece adorning it.

"Magical exhaustion. Coma-bound. Insufficient magic pool remaining to sustain life. You poor thing, how did you possibly get into this state?"

Aura heard the words but didn't truly acknowledge them, for the larger being scooped Clover up into its own magical grip and quickly vacated the cave. The image spluttered and died as Aura's temporary energy boost ran out. Gazing up at Valencia, Aura's fearful expression returned. "W-What was that, Miss V?"

Valencia shook her head in disbelief. "I'm not sure, Aura. But whatever it was, it looked mighty, powerful, yet gentle at the same time. It seemed concerned for Clover's welfare, at least. Perhaps it took her somewhere safe to be treated?"

Aura's expression became crestfallen. A moment of moping later, she steeled herself. "You're probably right, Miss Valencia. She'll be all right, I hope. But aren't you hungry? Have you eaten anything?"

Valencia's stomach rumbled as she laughed. "Huh. Now that you mention it, I am a mite famished. I'd like to try some of those berries of yours."

Aura nodded and galloped back into the blue room, Valencia following behind. Grabbing some more off the bush, Aura floated a few over to Valencia, who caught them in her mouth. She chewed for a bit... then promptly spat them out. "Bleugh! What is that? What an awful taste these have! How can you stand them, let alone find them delicious?" Valencia continued to cough as she attempted to rid her taste buds of the now-unwelcome intruders.

Aura just stared. "I don't understand. They should be delicious. Here, let me try another one." Aura grabbed another berry from the bush and sampled it once more. "Mmmm. They still taste scrumptious to me. I wonder why you can't stand them?" Aura lapsed into a monologue. "Maybe only unicorns find them tasty. After all, they do make my magic more powerful for a time. Hey!" she piped up, "maybe there's another type of food around here that you'd like. Let's have another look around."

Unfortunately, a thorough search of the blue room yielded no more returns, but for some additional berry bushes. Valencia sighed. "Well, guess I'm going hungry for now."

Aura shared her concern, but kept looking around the room anyway. "How about we check out the other room where Cirrus is still sleeping?" She suggested. "Maybe there's something in there! Come on, there'll be something for sure!" Showing more excitement after her initial disappointment, the filly ran into the neighbouring room, leaving a famished Earth pony to trail her without enthusiasm. As Aura passed Cirrus, darting around the room, the pegasus stirred.

"Wow, how long was I out?" He looked around at the hyperactive Aura and the fatigued Valencia. "Uh, what did I miss? Anypony? What's up?" He rose from his position with a groan of appreciation for the long sleep. "Hey!" he yelled. Aura came to a halt and Valencia shot him a look of reproach. "Well, you weren't listening, so don't give me that look, Miss V. Now, what is going on?"

The mare apologised. "Sorry about that, Cirrus, but some of us have been trying to figure out our situation. So far, we know that this cave sustains life, it seems to protect us completely from the outside conditions, it shimmers like water off a bed of precious gemstones... and Clover is missing. Now hold up—" Cirrus had given a start at that and made to fly off "—we're pretty sure she's being taken care of. Just relax, colt. What we're doing now is trying to find some food. We already found these berries that Aura claims to be amazing, but I can't stand them. I was wondering whether you might feel the same as me or her."

Trotting over to Aura, she took a berry from the leaves she'd slung over her back. "Try this, Cirrus. I reckon you have a fifty-fifty shot at loving them or hating them." Holding one out to Cirrus, Valencia motioned to it. The colt wandered over to Valencia and took the berry in his mouth.

"Eh, not too bad," Cirrus appraised while he chewed. "Nothing special though, although I could live on them if I had no other choice."

Aura, who had temporarily forsaken her appraisal, observed the exchange between the two. Once again, she put her hoof to her head and tapped. "I'm not sure if I have this right, but I think we might have our own favourite foods, so to speak. I'm in total love with these berries and they make me shine, as well as boost my magic power. Nope, not even kidding, Cirrus. Watch this!" As Aura chewed on another berry, she watched the colt's eyes bulge and smiled.

"What is that wow you're glowing what sorcery is this that's totally radical amazing how did you—" Cirrus' tirade ceased as Valencia brought a hoof over his mouth. A moment later, she released him as he calmed down. "I just mean, wow Aura, that's nuts! And it's those berries that make you shine? How come I didn't? Did you, Miss V?" He looked at Valencia, who simply denied it.

"No, Cirrus. Not only did I not glow at all, but I found them absolutely disgusting. No idea why. No special powers for me or anything. Just the most gross thing I've ever tasted. Which is why we wanted you to try them, too. It does lend credence to Aura's idea, though. Which is why we're looking for some other kind of food, to see if their effects vary between us." She grasped her mane and lightly tugged. "This is all too magical for me. I mean, whoever heard of food bestowing special powers to anypony?" Valencia shrugged and continued looking around the cave. Her eyes roved over the ceiling, catching a flicker of ruby light. "Aura, that up there. Train your light onto it for a moment."

Aura followed Valencia's instruction, her light beam illuminating the crystal crop. "Hey Cirrus," she said, "how're your wings now? All rested?"

Cirrus shrugged. "No idea, but I guess it can't hurt to try them out? Let's see." Cirrus flapped his wings and found liftoff easily enough. "Yeah, looks like thunder-colts are go! You want I should take a squizz at that thing up there?" Without waiting for an answer, Cirrus sped up to the ceiling to get a closer look at the gem. It was an enormous ruby, almost as large as himself. Eyes wide at the sheer brilliance of it, Cirrus reached out a hoof to touch it.

Glint

Temporarily blinded, Cirrus floated back down to the ground, hooves over his eyes as a deep rumbling sounded from inside the walls of the now-red room. Trembling, Aura huddled up to Valencia as the elder mare kept her gaze focused on the sound's origin. The back wall of the room split apart and slid open to create a narrow passageway. Clover and Aura stared, dumb-struck. Cirrus—still recovering from his temporary blindness—asked, "What's going on? Another earthquake? Don't tell me that worm's back again!" As he lowered his hooves from his eyes, he blinked and observed the new pathway. "Oh. That's interesting."

Valencia approached the new opening. It stretched out for a small length, but there were also small niches cut into the sides of the path. These niches stretched up to the ceiling, where some strange-looking stalks grew upside-down, similar to stalactites. Scrutinising the stems, Valencia recognised the shape of the growths as she realised what she was looking at.

Crystal corn? No way. Amazed, Valencia retreated down the path to round up the foals. "Hey, I think I found a breakthrough with some more food. Cirrus, you should fly up to the ceiling through there and examine those niches. I've got a funny feeling it might be a great idea for you in particular to check out what's growing in them."

Cirrus nodded and flew into the passage. A moment later, he returned, a couple of cobs in his mouth. "Let's see what happens, shall we?" He unwrapped one of the cobs, revealing a sparkling ear of crystalline corn. "Here goes!" After taking a bite and chewing on the corn, his expression changed dramatically. His face lit up even as his cornflour coat shimmered. "Wow! This is delicious! Care to try some, Miss V?"

Valencia eyes the corn skeptically. "Somehow, I get the feeling it won't exactly be my grain of salt... but I'll try it." A few moments passed as Valencia's tongue appraised the alien taste. "Well, it's definitely better than those awful berries... But I don't find it spectacular either. Still, I'm famished, I can't complain! Care to grab some more for us? Oh and Aura, maybe it's a good idea for you to grab a few more shoots of berries for yourself. I have a feeling that this corn won't sit well with you at all."

Aura nodded and fled back down the passage to the blue room. "So, Cirrus," Valencia said as she turned back to the colt, "you feeling any different after that corn, or—"

Valencia cut herself off, her question rendered unnecessary. She gaped as Cirrus soared back and forth along the passageway at a blistering speed. Clearly, the corn was definitely pegasus-food. He shimmered as he became a blur, racing around the room and up and down the passage. Just like Aura, the shine faded after a moment. Cirrus came back down to Earth, exhilaration gracing his young features.

"This. Is. Awesome!" Cirrus beamed at the corn he'd harvested. Before he could chow down on some more, a hoof reached out and held his own in place. Looking up, he saw Valencia glaring at him. His appetite fading at her expression, he dropped the cob. "Hey, what's the deal?"

The mare shook her head. "You best not be eating all of it at once. There may not be any more of it further down. And we might need you to use those super-enhanced flight skills of yours at any given moment. Just simmer down and take it easy." She removed her hoof from Cirrus' own and re-entered the narrow passageway. "Let's see what's through here. Aura! Come on, girl, let's go!" Her call was rewarded with the patter of little hooves running to catch up.

Passing through the passage in single file, the trio came to a deep chasm that dropped uncomfortably off at the end of their pathway. A cold breeze also blew directly at their faces. Valencia struggled to hold her ground against the sudden, ferocious winds. Through the blasting breeze, she noticed an air vent shaped like a pegasus in flight, wings folded together in front. A large, amber-coloured stone protruded from the cavern wall above the statue's head.

Retreating against the chill, Valencia walked backwards after giving the others a warning. The three re-emerged back into the red room.

"Well, Cirrus, looks like it's your time to shine now after all."

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